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Staff Editorials

An edit medley

Survey offers chance for new ideas

 

The people of Pickens County have an opportunity at the moment that they actually have almost any time – to voice opinions on the future of the county.

“Public comment” appears on most meeting agendas, but rarely is it taken advantage of. 

We’d commend Commission Chair Rob Jones for running a particularly open government with meetings that encourage interaction with anyone who shows up.

Being heard and getting your way, however, are two different things. 

In between offering a thought and seeing something happen lies a step called consensus – what do the majority of your neighbors feel about your idea?

Right now in Pickens County all individuals have the chance to state what each of us wants to see happen. And, equally important, to see what our neighbors are thinking. Are you/we/us in the majority in your desires or are you a voice of one crying in the wilderness?

A survey appears on page 16A of this week’s paper.  Follow this link to take the survey online. Please take time to fill the short survey out. Let’s see what the consensus is around here regarding our future.

One person speaking out could be ignored, a consensus must be reckoned with.

 

Needed upgrades at the Jasper park

 

The city has closed Jasper Park for renovations including some new playground equipment, fresh paint for wooden decks and walkways, and other improvements, which we’re excited about. 

At the last council meeting, Mayor John Weaver said the city might connect the two parking areas to create a loop.  This is a great idea. Parking has been a nightmare there since they put in the waterfall and separated the lots. On the far end by the little playground, the parking spots are angled in the opposite direction of cars pulling in, so you cross your fingers and hope there’s enough room to turn around at the end of the lot and get your car into a spot. We like the waterfall, but would like to see a road connecting the lots, possibly behind the water feature.

We’re also glad some of the ducks are being relocated because they’ve gotten a little too big for their britches. If you’ve tried to enjoy a picnic lunch at the park recently, you probably got bombarded for your bread crusts or leftover fries. (The geese aren’t any better. One of our reporters was bitten by an unprovoked Canada goose, but the city can’t do anything about those because they’re protected.) The closing last week was unfortunate with the weather just warming up, but we’re glad to see the city making improvements to a widely-used and important part of our community.

 

Spring fever at the schools

 

And speaking of warmer weather...

Spring fever is at its height right now in our local schools. With the warmer weather comes the inevitable change in our moods - both physically and behaviorally - that gets students and teachers itching to finish classes and get out of the classroom. 

While Milestone testing is out of the way for younger students, high schoolers are gearing up for finals and end-of-course testing. With these still to come we encourage everyone to harness the energy that comes with warm springtime weather and focus for these last few weeks of school. Easy to say and hard to do, but you’ve come so far this semester to let a little restlessness derail your efforts. 

Even calm and even-keeled students and teachers can be affected by the spring fever bug, but during this home stretch leading to May 26th, keep in mind that a little more work now will make your summer all the more sweet. 

Proceed, but with caution, on senior tax exemption

The Pickens County Seniors For Change meeting last week, where nearly 150 concerned residents came to hear about next steps for getting a senior tax exemption here, was  the largest meeting we’ve covered in months. 

We’re always thrilled to see citizens speak their minds, but we were glad our state senator Steve Gooch was there to offer reasonable precautions about the long-term implications of a tax exemption. 

Three things he said stuck out. 

First: “If you take away half the people in this room that are paying, the other half have to make up the difference unless the expenses are cut. If you eliminate half the taxpayers in the system the burden is a shift to the people that are still paying.” 

Second: “Whatever you put forward will pass. I can almost assure you. Be careful what you ask for because you’re probably going to get it,” Gooch said. 

Third: He said in every county he’s worked with on these has been a “significant” increase to the millage rate after an exemption passed.

Like commission chair Rob Jones (who was wrongly described at the meeting as backing the group) said, we’re not opposed to exploring the dollars and cents of what an expanded exemption would look like. (Pickens currently offers a full exemption for residents over 62 who have a household income of less than $25,000). 

However, this is not time to be hasty. Poor planning and research now could lead to disaster. And once passed, it can’t be quickly, if ever, reversed.

Gooch likened removing or changing an exemption once it’s in place as hard as taking away Social Security benefits.

According to the US Census, Pickens County has almost a 21 percent senior citizen population. If we enact something like Gilmer County – a 100 percent exemption for anyone 65 and older with no limitations, a.k.a. the Cadillac Plan – that’s a big slice of the taxpayer pie that we would need to make up. 

We realize Pickens Seniors for Change is looking at several types of exemption plans but we think Gooch is right that whatever referendum gets on the ballot as a straw poll will have overwhelming support, and because of this we need to be especially careful. 

Like Gooch, we urge our elected officials, Pickens Seniors for Change members and other residents involved in the process to take time and formulate the best option for the entire county, which includes not only seniors and seniors on fixed incomes, but young families, business owners and everyone else. 

Our commission board and school board, who have gone back and forth about who responsible for getting the ball rolling, need to belly up to the bar and work together because this issue is not going away anytime soon. 

We know our elderly population can struggle if they are on fixed income and we want to support them, but this is a big change and we need to do it right the first time.  

 

Dogs like to ride, not sit in hot cars

By Christie Pool

Staff writer

Serious dog lover

 

My dogs love to ride. Correction: one of my dogs loves to ride in the car. The others just get really excited about going somewhere, even if they don’t particularly enjoy the trip.

When I say love: Shadow, our 9-year-old, long, black-haired sweetie of a mutt, seems happiest when his head is stuck out the window, ears blowing straight up from the wind, and nose sniffing countless new smells. Our other “big dog” Boston just likes being loaded into a car and hanging out, doing something besides sitting on the porch or walking around the neighborhood with me. She likes riding, but she doesn't love it the way Shadow does. The third dog, a 10-pound Bichon - well let's just say his spoiled little self much prefers sitting in a lap than riding. 

That being said, a couple of weeks ago I loaded the dogs into the Jeep and ran to Walmart. It was a cool, brisk morning at our house, in the upper 40s. While driving into town, I noticed it already warming up during the 15 minute ride. I parked beside a small tree giving some shade (even though it was likely still in the low 50s but a little shade is always better). I rolled down the windows enough so the dogs could stick their heads out but not so much they could jump out and run off in search of an adventure (or a nearby restaurant). 

I rushed through the store, grabbing needed items hastily. Arriving back at my car, I noticed all three dogs had their tongues hanging out, panting a little. I was surprised. Sitting in the car I realized it was indeed stuffy. I cranked the car and started home, rolling down the windows for the obligatory sticking out of heads (the dogs, not me). Looking down at the console, the thermometer said 57 degrees. 

Doesn't seem too bad, right? Even at sub-60 degrees it doesn’t take long for a car’s interior to heat up to uncomfortable levels - especially for animals. I felt terrible. They weren’t hot, but I doubt they were comfortable. 

While good-intentioned - I just wanted to make them happy and let them ride along with their faces in the wind - I came dangerously close to being THAT person who leaves their dogs in a too-hot car. And that was at 57 degrees.

According to a Stanford University study, when it’s 72 degrees outside, the temperature inside our cars can heat up to 116 degrees within an hour. At 80 degrees outside, the temperature can heat up to 99 degrees within 10 minutes according to the study.

Ninety-nine degrees! In 10 minutes! And rolling down the windows has been shown to have little effect on the temperature inside a car, according to the Humane Society of the United States. A dog can only withstand a high temperature for a short time before suffering nerve damage, heart problems, liver damage, brain damage or even death. 

Animals can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes. Beating the heat is extra tough for dogs as they can only cool themselves by panting and by sweating through their paw pads. 

Now that temps are consistently in the 80s (think 100+ degrees inside a car), please remember that while your dogs may love to ride, they do not like sitting in a hot car.

 

Local government should go big or go home with plans

By Dan Pool, Editor

A retired friend with proven credentials in government and business who now calls this area home was having lunch with me recently. He did not want to be named but gave a perfect example of how Pickens County is regressive when it comes to planning.

Consider the idea of the mountain bike proposed by a land trust for north Pickens and the county leaders’ reactions. [Please note this has nothing to do with the actual merits of that proposal.]

When it was first mentioned, the government response was essentially a combination of the following: we need to look into this; might be something good; we’ll try to help.

Nowhere was there reference of whether a passive park in north Pickens fits or does not fit into our long-range recreation goals. 

A more progressive government, according to my experienced friend, would have immediately been able to assess it based on their long-range plans. Are more recreation areas a goal of the county? Or have the taxpayers generally said they prefer government to focus on traditional sports fields?

Whenever something like this comes up, it’s like reinventing a wheel in Pickens County.

Adding more planning meetings may seem like a minor point, but it substantially changes the way the local governments operate. It switches from decisions based on what the top officials feel at the spur of the moment to what is developed through planning processes, written down and formalized. It does not rule-out revision or improvisation, but is a recognized starting point.

It’s true the county has a Joint Comprehensive Plan that ludicrously runs through 2028 but it’s rarely referred to and never publicly checked to see if we are working towards the listed goals.

The document, running around 100 pages with a lot of graphics, is vaguely encouraging but short on nuts and bolts.

For example, the current comprehensive plan notes that “goods producing job growth is declining” and that 51 percent of our working residents commute out of the county.

It then gives 13 different measures to promote economic development including “expand business and industrial recruitment efforts” as though it were that simple.

One of the more interesting notes of the plan which, includes input from Jasper, Nelson and Talking Rock, is under infrastructure (page 60), “Consider the formation of an independent water and sewer authority to plan and manage services county-wide. (The City of Jasper does not concur with this.)” The italics are in the plan.

This plan alone makes a decent first step towards a lot of improvements, but what is lacking is a champion. Some leadership from the commissioners or others, perhaps our magistrate judge who is working to promote more planning, is needed to take what is essentially a dead document and put it into action.

After all it took Tom Brady on the field, not just the Patriots’ game plan, to win the Super Bowl (sorry Falcons fans). 

We’d challenge our commissioners and public officials to be ambitious. Throw out some big ideas. Maybe one reason Pickens County is not progressing as much as some want is no one is daring to dream a better future.

Whether it is recreation areas, economic development opportunities or significantly expanded water and sewage, our government officials must set the course, not just react when someone shows up with an idea. What is our strategy in 10 years? What kind of benchmarks are we going to measure whether we are making progress or not? What do our leaders think are the obstacles and challenges that are holding us back? 

Next Tuesday, there is a state-required meeting on the Comprehensive Plan (see article on page 4A). If you have views of where we need to go by all means attend. If not, then at least encourage our leaders to go big or go home.

 

Say no to the avocado, think and eat for yourself

At some point in the past decade, America went crazy for avocados. Those green fruits became the healthy/trendy crowd’s meth. 

Not too many years ago most people would have been making an educated guess if they identified avocado as the base for guacamole – now you can’t swing a kale leaf without hitting a health food guru touting avocado creations. 

The green bumpy looking fruits, mostly from Mexico, are showing up everywhere, with growers aggressively marketing them as a “super food.” When you have people making a Mexican food staple into ice cream you know organic hell has broken loose.

Avocados are eaten three meals a day in everything from smoothies to sandwiches. Avocaderia, a new restaurant in New York, opened this month serving nothing but avocados in all the forms imaginable.

This madness is best captured in a funny 2013 Subway commercial where two women try to outdo each other declaring their undying devotion to the fruit. The winning woman finally introduces her son, Avocado.

The hype is so widespread that one British publication termed it the “overcado.”

This constant marketing/hipness paid off for avocado sellers. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center website, consumption of avocados has “increased significantly from 1.1 pounds per capita in 1989 to a record 7 pounds per capita in 2014.” Wikipedia cited this trend, US per capita consumption has grown from 2 pounds in 2001 to 7 pounds in 2016. 

Not bad business for something that was once known in the U.S. as the “alligator pear” and originally had a Spanish name judged too hard to pronounce by Americans, so marketers renamed it the avocado.

The problem with this new-found addiction (and what else could we call it when people are spreading it on toast?) is that avocados are only grown in a few places. A New York Times article stated, “nearly 80 percent of those avocados came from Michoacán, the only Mexican state authorized to export the fruit” because of concerns of pests in other areas of Mexico. Other South American countries grow some and California does as well, but not enough to meet the skyrocketing demand.

Unfortunately, Michoacán’s main avocado breeding area is also the key migration stop for western monarch butterflies. Those cool orange-and-black butterflies are being decimated out west because Mexican farmers are cutting every tree in sight to grow more avocados to feed a trend that will probably be as dead as acai berry elixir and pomegranate-love by the time their avocado trees grow. [Note: eastern monarchs migrate to Florida.]

Those awesome butterflies travel all the way from Canada (multi-generational flights). But instead of finding their usual over-wintering trees they are going to find a bunch of avocados rotting in the field because American foodies will probably have changed their love-affair to beets or guava (whatever that is). One online publication predicts cauliflower will be the next shining star in the fitness firmament.

The same New York Times article found that between 1974 and 2011, about 110,000 acres of forest across Michoacán’s central highlands were turned into avocado orchards, according to a study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

It’s not that we are suddenly butterfly huggers and we admit to liking guacamole. It’s not purely environmental reason this is noxious; it’s mainly the whole trend-following culture that gets us riled up. In this case it’s further so, because you know many of these avocado devotees would launch into a foodie diatribe over someone eating a Big Mac. Just look at quinoa, similarly hip foodie fare.  The Peruvian grain tripled in price between 2000 and 2014. The UN even branded 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa. 

As with so many things, our culture-obsessed society pounces with mouths wide-open on what’s popular at the moment – as though all you have to do to be healthy and hip is eat avocados. Show a couple of celebrities with toned bodies slicing avocado into a blender and the next thing you know a population of butterflies is wiped out.